The quotation by Coleridge describes Iago’s soliloquies as having ‘the motive hunting of a motiveless malignity’. Coleridge has interpreted Iago using soliloquies in an attempt to justify his actions throughout the book, and that not only his actions have ‘motiveless malignity’ but in fact he is a ‘motiveless malignity’, in other words he is doing these terrible things to the other characters, influencing them against each other and eventually making them destroy each other. Coleridge is saying that Iago has no motive for these things and is doing them for the sole reason he is evil and enjoys the suffering he causes.
According to Coleridge Iago is using these speeches aimed at the audience only to reassure himself and persuade the audience that what he is doing is revenge for things done to him.
In the beginning of the book it appears that the only motive for Iago’s acts are strong racism against Othello. For example he constantly refers to him as “the Moor” like in act one scene one line 33, “his Moorship’s” this is the first example of Iago’s obsession with race and colour and it continues in I.i.67 when Iago says “the thick lips” and again in I.i.89 when Iago calls Othello “an old black ram”.
Iago constantly refers to the sexual exploitation he claims occur between Othello and Desdemona; like in I.i.89-90 when Iago says ” an old black ram is tupping your white ewe” and in I. i.111 Iago tells Brabantio that he’ll have his “daughter covered with a Barbary horse” and later on in I.i.125 describes Othello “as the gross clasps of a lascivious Moor”.
All these references to Othello show prejudicial hatred from Iago, these are not true motives for what he does but they do shed some light on why he is so twisted and evil, but later on Iago reveals that his racist views are intertwined with his jealousy of Othello. His jealousy being caused by Othello’s job, general of the Venetian Army, and possibly (although he does not say) Iago is envious of Othello as his wife Desdemona is described as beautiful many times in the book. Iago cannot see how a black man can do so well in life because of his racist views and his jealousy turns into hatred for Othello further feeding his racism.
Later on Iago falsely accuses Othello and Cassio of having slept with his wife, Emilia. He presumes this on suspicion, without actually having any evidence. This is evidence that supports Coleridge’s hypothesis of Iago’s behaviour, showing that he is actually just searching for excuses that justify his random evil behaviour. This may also be Iago trying to persuade himself that he is perfectly justified to sleep with Desdemona if he wanted to, although he doesn’t do this or mention it.
As far as the book Othello goes, in my opinion Iago is truly evil, constantly throughout the book in his soliloquies, where he reveals his plans, his emotions, his beliefs, and his thoughts. When he isn’t devising an evil plan he is trying to justify its existence, which is hopeless as anything he does come up with he either made up or is some prejudicial factor like racism. The way he plays out his plan, using manipulation and deception for example in II.iii.39 Iago suggests to Othello that the way Cassio leaves is suspicious not actually accusing Cassio, but merely planting the seeds of suspicion in Othello’s mind to what may be happening between Cassio and Desdemona, even though there is not.
From this point onwards Othello begins to suspect Cassio and believe that Desdemona may be dishonest, which eventually leads to the death of Othello, Desdemona, Emilia, Roderigo and the injuring of Cassio. Another example of Iago’s deadly manipulation is in III.iii.167 when Iago says “O beware, my lord, of jealousy: It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock the meat it feeds on. Also in Othello (III.iii.1) Iago arranges for Desdemona and Cassio to meet and talk about each others problems. Desdemona then agrees that she will talk to Othello about forgiving Cassio, this only adding to Othello’s suspicions.
It’s the way Iago uses all the characters in his plan and they all play some part in each others demise, this behaviour can be considered evil. Iago also refers to his behaviour as his “sport” showing that he finds twisting people into self destruction and corrupting them and turning them against each other his sport, like a game to him. His behaviour, using lies and manipulating others to unwillingly take part in his plan is also evil.
Iago also possesses the ability to create this impression among the other characters that he is the most honest, loyal and trustworthy character. He uses this impression he has created to full advantage when it comes to playing out his plan at the end, he uses the impression of his loyalty to his closest friends to have Cassio fired. He starts a fight between Cassio and Montana that when Othello interrupts, Iago gives his account of the fight.
He seems to want to help Cassio to get out of trouble, when in fact he pretends to be doing this while in fact exaggerating Cassio’s acts. Othello thinks that Iago is trying to help Cassio, so everything Iago says Othello assumes was worse in real life. Also without the impression of trust Iago has on Othello, Othello would not have blindly trusted Iago over his beloved wife Desdemona. These impressions bring a level of dramatic irony to the story. The fact that Iago revels in the fact he is seen as someone he knows he is not shows that he is deceitful; this perception allows him to carry out his evil plan.
At the end of the book, Othello kills Desdemona, and then himself, Rodrigo injures Cassio, and Iago kills Rodrigo and his own wife, Emilia. However at the end Iago does say in recognition of the pain and suffering he caused “From this time forth I never will speak word.” This does show that he recognises what he has done as wrong and will take action so he never does this again. This shows he has a feeling of guilt for what he has done and a realisation that the things that he did had, as Coleridge stated, “a motiveless malignity”, that he had done an evil thing for no clear reason. I believe this shows that he is not pure evil, but just got carried away with his plan. I think that by deciding others fates and manipulating them, Iago got a kick out of it.
In conclusion to the question, Iago’s behaviour is based on his love of controlling people and the rush he probably got out of it, however after a while his manipulation of characters, deception and ability to control the fate of those involved in his plot twisted him into something he is not, and then he began to believe he could not get caught. Iago was as Coleridge said, “a motiveless malignity”, he had no true motive apart from the fictional ones created by Iago so he could continue on his evil plan without expressing guilt or doubt. And when the plot reached its climax at the end, Iago was so sure of his superiority and ability to manipulate, that when it seemed he was going to be caught he panicked and acted irrationally killing his wife, which only made him look more evil. However I believe he got a taste for power, became addicted, and eventually he got caught. And when he got caught he had the chance to see what he had done and wished to make amends by punishing himself.